We certainly couldn’t have asked for better weather on Saturday: cool and crisp with bright, clear skies. Perfect weather for, say, a chili cook-off? Yes, please! Local radio personalities Corey Deitz and Jay Hamilton were happy to oblige, serving up their fifth annual Guns N’ Hoses Chili Cook-off at the Clear Channel Metroplex in Little Rock. I’ve been a longtime listener to Corey and Jay’s morning show on 100.3 The Edge, but this was the first year I’d managed to make it to the cook-off. We came hungry and didn’t leave disappointed, as over 50 teams competed for several titles including spiciest chili, best use of candy, best use of pumpkin as an ingredient and best name – the award for “people who can’t win an award based on chili.” The cook-off was held to benefit the September Fund, a charity that provides scholarships to the children of police, fire, and EMT workers. The fund was set up to commemorate the rescue workers who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
Right off the bat, the festive spirit of Halloween (not to mention the wonderful smell of 50 pots of chili cooking) was evident in the air around us. Folks were hamming it up at their chili booths, calling to passers-by like carnival barkers. Our friend EE-Gore here (quote: “Have you seen my brother, Al?”) was one of many people dressed up for the occasion, and these folks, coupled with the mechanical bull, beer tent, and rock music coming from the rear of the festival really gave a fun vibe to the whole event. We arrived right as everyone started serving, and the chili was hot and fresh. This was a good thing, because by the time my sister and brother-in-law showed up an hour and a half later, some of the chili was running out, and what was left was beginning to get a little bit burnt tasting. Right at the start, though, everything was great — and we were definitely ready to eat.
One of the first chilis we tried (and one of our favorites) was the offering from the Saline County S.W.A.T. unit. They advertised it as “Marie LeVeau’s Voodoo Swamp Chili,” and it definitely had the fishy twang of crawfish meat all through it. We were pleasantly surprised at how well the flavor worked with chili and the booth was one of the liveliest at the event. Right next to them was our favorite of the professional attempts: Rambler Grill in Rose Bud’s rich, meaty chili, served with a thin slice of cornbread and some corn salsa. We were off to a delicious start.
Moving on down the row of booths, we ran into fellow Arkansas food-blogger Chet Roberson of the Knife Fight Food Blog, dressed like a cross between Lars Ulrich and Richard Simmons. His chili was good, but we were most impressed with the excellent cheese straws he was serving up with it. Pictured next to him is the proprietor of the Fat Boy Mafia booth. Their chili was a little on the bland side, but we enjoyed the cheese and sour cream toppings.
Everybody was gorging themselves, but I don’t think anybody at the whole affair enjoyed themselves as much as this Great Dane, seen here getting his chili on. Who knew such a large dog could have such a delicate touch getting chili out of a 2 oz. souffle cup with his tongue? Maybe best not to think about that too much. We had what the dog was having, though, a rich and piquant chili from Little Rock MEMS – one of our favorite chilis of the day.
Of course, we had to head over to sample the chili at the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers booth – and I’ve got to say that while I love what the Freethinkers stand for…their chili was just too dadgum hot. We had some good, spicy chili (including category winner Sherwood Police Dept.), but this was so hot it killed any flavor that might have been present in the chili. We took a break after this one, and even though I swore going in that I wasn’t paying $3 for a can of Coors Light…I went over to the beer tent and did exactly that. Spicy was done right at the aforementioned Sherwood PD stand, and also with John and Amanda Heringer’s “Hell from Habanero” chili, which despite its slightly scary name was just the right amount of hot with a rich, thick consistency. Their serving it up with some good, fresh tasting pico de gallo didn’t hurt a bit either.
All-in-all, we’d like to thank Corey and Jay for giving us such a fun time (for cheap – $5 entry fees are nice). They raised $6,735 for the September Fund, and I think everyone involved had a pretty good time of it. We definitely tried some interesting chili (including one offering that used Red Hots candies), and we saw some very colorful people. I hope that next year will be even more successful – we can’t wait to get there and pig out again. Happy cooking!
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